Empyrean Age marks a big turning point for EVE Online. The cluster of New Eden has seen a lot of great storytelling and roleplaying but until now, most of that activity has been created by the players and there has been very little interaction between player created content and the content created by CCP. Almost no changes have been made to EVE since its launch that reflect the developing story of EVE.

That is now about to change. Starting in the middle of May CCP began to create a direct link between the evolving story of EVE and the actual game environment. This has been done a few times before in very limited circumstances but the path we are on now is really unprecedented.

Tony Gonzales’ novel EVE: Empyrean Age is a prequel to the events of the next expansion. The 4 major Empires of EVE will shift from peace to war as a result of the events in that novel. We wanted to bring a sense of those changes to the players in a natural way that immersed people in the unfolding plot. The first and most visible highlight of that strategy was the news items, video teaser, and in-game changes related to the destruction of the Ishukone HQ by a Gallente suicide attack. Players could read about the peace conference at the station, then see a newsreel of the attack itself, and in game, they can travel to the site of the disaster and see the massive damage caused to the station, linking fiction, multimedia, and game assets together to create a total experience for the players.

Now that the expansion is released the players will see even bigger impacts of the story. Many of the events of the novel are reflected in changes to the game itself. During the downtime period while the game was upgraded with the Empyrean Age expansion the players were treated to an unfolding series of plot threads communicated in the form of news items. Once the servers came back on line people were able to fly to many of the sites of conflict described in these news releases and see the changes made to the environment as a result, including ship graveyards and an orbiting Titan supercapital. The biggest effect is the game system we call “Factional Warfare”. Factional Warfare allows players to directly take part in the action by having their characters join the 4 militia organizations of the Empires and fight on their behalf for control of contested space. The war that is begun in the novel will be fought in real time, by real players, in EVE Online, totally merging the story with the game.

This is just a start. We have big plans to continue to mix all forms of storytelling together to make a richer and more meaningful experience for the players. Factional Warfare gives us some of those tools including the ability to track successes and losses in the raging battle zones, the rise in rank of especially effective pilots, and the economic impact of the war. That information, combined with observations of player behavior, threads on message boards, and interactions in many other venues, will be channeled through the EVE story team, and used to continuously change the EVE environment to reflect the progress of the fighting.

And Factional Warfare is just the first of several ideas we have plans to implement that will allow players to immerse themselves fully in EVE. Our goal is to start from this initial point, and make regular, steady forward progress in bringing the player storylines and the CCP storylines closer together.

The challenge we face is that EVE has already evolved a very vibrant and crucially important self-directed story based around Alliances and their battles in 0.0 space. We see that experience as the ultimate expression of the sandbox ideals of EVE. Eventually, we hope all players will become involved in Alliance activities, once they become experienced pilots and wise to the ways of EVE. Our challenge is to continue to support that advanced level of play while creating a consistent, directed, immersive storyline system in Empire space. We have to carefully navigate the integration of our story threads with the adventures arising naturally out of the decisions of hundreds of thousands of players. We want to tell stories with the EVE community, not to the EVE community.

This is really unexplored territory. We’re going to be doing things with narrative structure, player feedback, game design, and virtual reality that have never been tried before at this level of complexity. Our strategy is to go slow. We’re going to add features carefully, watch the results, adjust our plans, and generate a lot of feedback and commentary. Empyrean Age is the first step on this path, but we are convinced it leads to a wonderful destination.